"Playing on the defensive line, everything is so much about repetitions," coordinator Gene Chizik said. "For the young guys to get in there the first couple of weeks and have to play double-teams, it's such a shock. It's all about repetitions and seeing them over and over again. That's the only way that you can get comfortable playing on the D-line and you can see, generally with a young guy, when they make progress is in the last week or two of spring practice.
"That's what happened with some of the guys like (Bret) Eddins, (Steven) Bouldin and Wayne Dickens. We're hoping we're building some depth on the defensive line."
One of the veterans up front continued his good play on Saturday, consistently getting pressure on the passer and playing well vs. the run. Junior Spencer Johnson has emerged as a force at defensive tackle despite playing through some nagging injuries that have plagued him since the middle of last season. Happy with where the defense stands after spring practice, Johnson said the A-Day game was a solid showing by his group.
"I feel it was good," Johnson said. "People are kind of beat-up a little. Just over the course of a spring people get little nicks and bruises, but everybody came out and played hard. We tried to put on a little show for the crowd, showcase a little bit of what we can d...It was important for us to get out here and learn this defense, kind of take it in for the fall."
Linebacker Travis Williams pursues to the ball during Saturday's A-Day game. He made eight tackles in the contest.
The showcase was limited a little bit by the lack of creativity on the defensive side of the ball. Without any blitzes by the linebackers and just a few stunts by the defensive line, it was all about effort and strength on Saturday and Johnson said that's fine by him.
"It was pretty straightforward," Johnson noted. "We just came out and played ball. We really just lined up in a base defense. We got our fits, our alignments. Because it's a new defense we had to work on the small things."
Johnson's running mate, Dexter Murphy, agreed with Johnson's assessment of the defensive game plan Saturday. One of the surprises of the spring, the junior from LaGrange, Ga., has impressed his coaches and teammates with his work ethic and desire on the field. With the spring now done and two-a-days looming in August, Murphy said this defense has really gotten better and should be ready to go when the season opens against USC in September.
"From the first day of the spring I could tell the defense had a new attitude," Murphy said. "The intensity has picked up. We've got a group of guys this year who know what it takes to be an aggressive defense, to want to make plays."
Murphy said that he felt throughout the spring that the defense would make strides if everybody "stayed hungry over 15 days of grueling practices" that started on March 1st. "Everybody stayed hungry and today we just finished off on a good note," the junior tackle said.